More Scenes From the Storm in a Teacup, II

I just heard* that at 9:00pm Chicago time, there will be a discussion between Lee Smolin and Jeff Harvey, presumably about string theory, and you can listen to it live on radio station WGN, here.


  • I wonder if it will be as utterly content-free and pointless as the one that took place between Lee Smolin and Brian Greene on Science Friday some weeks back? That one was so annoying in places that I never finished the blog post I was writing about it. It was mostly of the following structure (I paraphrase):

    Lee says wise and learned things like “there should be a diversity of effort in approaching problems in fundamental physics”.

    The host, Ira Flatow, turns to Brian (on telephone link) and says “what do you think of that, Brian Greene?”

    Brian says, “Yes, I agree. I have several students working on things outside of string theory.”

    …thus blowing a bit of a hole in the claim that string theory is this cult/monolith that somehow blinds us all to other great ideas.

  • I wonder if Lee will bring out what I consider to be one of the most ridiculous things I’ve heard said by him (or anyone else) in this largely-media-and-self-interest-driven “debate” spawned by his and Peter Woit’s books. Paraphrasing: A good idea has about ten years to come to fruition, and then if it does not, it is wrong and should be thrown out.

    Lee does say some wise (if mostly obvious) things about the field from time to time – some of which are well worth remembering, and sometimes it comes from his knowledge of how things have worked in physics in the past. Yes, we should remember our history….. but this statement seems to spectacularly ignore history and ranks right at the far opposite end of the scale of “wise things”. Ten years?! And even if you could put a time to it… is this what we are telling the general public about the way we do science? By putting time limits on ideas?

Overall, this storm in a teacup -which will continue, because the media only wants to hear an “underdog” story right now, whether or not it reflects what is going on in the research itself- is simply poisoning the well for everyone, whether they do string theory or not. See here.

Lee and Peter, I agree that string theory is often over-hyped, and has been for some years now (let us not forget, by the way, that it is the same media who helped out with that hype who is helping to drive the new anti-string hype -classic bait and switch-) and that it has made some physicists working in the field a bit annoyed. But here is how not to fight against that: Counter-hype.


  • An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth leaves everyone blind and sucking up their favourite meals through a straw.
  • Fighting fire with fire leads to everything burning.


(* Thanks, Nick!)

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